Death Camp Guard Living in Queens Last US Nazi Case

No country will take Jakiw Palij
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 31, 2016 9:08 AM CST
Death Camp Guard Living in Queens Last US Nazi Case
This photo was taken at Auschwitz just after Soviet forces liberated the Nazi death camp.   (AP Photo/FILE)

During some three decades with Justice Department, Eli Rosenbaum has earned a well-deserved reputation as a Nazi hunter. He has worked on 137 cases involving suspected Nazis, and in all but 30 of them, the accused lost citizenship or was deported. Now, CNN reports, just a single active case remains. But when it comes to Jakiw Palij, who lives in Queens, NY, deportation isn’t likely. In fact, a federal judge ordered the 92-year-old deported in 2004, but the European countries he could be sent to won't take him. Palij, CNN notes, will likely die here. "What Mr. Palij did prevented other people from reaching old age," says Rosenbaum, who now also oversees more recent war-related crimes as the DOJ's director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy. Palij is accused of being a guard at the Trawniki death camp in German-occupied Poland—"in the end," Rosenbaum says, "everyone who was held there was massacred."

Palij, who, per the New York Times, came to the US in 1949 as a refugee using falsified immigration papers, has denied any wrongdoing. In 2003, he told the Times that the Nazis coerced him into service patrolling bridges and roads at night. "We knew they would kill me and my family if I refused," he says. "I did it to save their lives, and I never even wore a Nazi uniform." The founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center downplayed that line of argument: "To work at those camps, you had to be eager to be there. They only took people they knew were loyal and brutal and not sympathetic to pleas of the inmates." In a 2013 interview with NPR, Rosenbaum described questioning the suspects about their alleged Nazi pasts as "surreal ... these people look close to harmless." (Joseph Goebbels' "love nest" is proving to be a tough sell for Berlin.)

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